By Jeremy Behnke
Journal Sports Editor
NEW ULM - The domination of Section 3AA continued last Thursday for the New Ulm softball team as it won its third straight section title.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm senior catcher Kali Denn blocks the plate during the Section 3AA Championship game against Pipestone.
For more photos of this event go to cu.nujournal.com
While things are going well for the Eagles right now, there was a point earlier in the season where they hit a rough patch. But in the long run, the bump was minor as the Eagles will make their third straight state tournament appearance with a 19-4 record.
On Thursday, New Ulm begins its quest for a third straight state title against Section 5 champion Rockford. New Ulm plays Rockford at 9 a.m. and it will play again at 3 p.m. regardless if it wins or loses.
The run for another state title won't be easy, but this year's team is one that is built with speed at the top and bottom of the order and with power in the middle of the lineup. It's a lineup that hasn't changed much over the course of the year and the players seem to be comfortable with where they're at.
"Normally we mess around with the lineup a lot more, but here we zoned in on a lineup very quickly and didn't alter it or change it much," New Ulm coach Kristi Andersen Loose said. "There are a lot of different directions we can go with our lineup and be successful. After that mid-season road block, it just didn't make sense to make a lot of changes."
The two-time defending state champs started hot, winning six straight games to open the season. But the Eagles lost four straight, including a 6-0 loss to Class AA team Kasson-Mantorville, the same team they defeated for the state title last year, along with games to AAA schools Prior Lake, Lakeville South and Champlin Park.
The losses didn't upset the Eagles much, but they did have to re-focus. Since then, the Eagles have won 13 straight.
"I think it did, we played the AAA teams up there and they were really competitive," junior Briana Sieve said after last Thursday's Section 3AA championship. "It made us realize that we can play really good teams and do well."
Not all losses are bad ones, according to Andersen Loose. She watched a lot of good things happen after that four-game skid.
"It really turned out to be a blessing for us," Andersen Loose said. "It helped to guage the direction that we were going to as a team. The girls made some decisions as far as how they wanted to continue and we all made commitments as far as what the rest of the season would look like and they haven't turned back since then."
The Eagles are a veteran team when it comes to state tournament play. Seniors Kali Denn, Ellie Schneider, Rachel Strandmark, Hannah Backer, Katie Forst and Patty Gruber, along with juniors Abby Kamm, Briana Sieve and Tori Botten have all been along for at least one of the state tournament trips.
"I think that experience certainly helps them to just be comfortable and knowing what to expect," Andersen Loose said. "But as much experience as we have, these girls are all excited in a different way than they have been in years past because their roles have changed."
Botten has been the staff ace, but Andersen Loose knows there are about four players on the team that can pitch. That certainly will help them if needed.
"I was looking for someone to take over, and she [Botten] has taken ownership on the mound," Andersen Loose said. "I think part of our success is we have other supportive pitchers behind her and they're there for each other."
The Eagles defeated this year's opening round opponent Rockford 10-4 in the Class AA semifinals at state last year. They have a game-plan in place and they know that the state tournament will be another experience they'll never forget.
"It's one of those experiences that you never want to end and you wish that every single player could experience," Andersen Loose said. "We've been so blessed that we've been able to do it so many times and we never take it for granted."